Archive for January, 2009

Life in the early, lumber camps was rigorous at best——murderous at worst. Jacks faced death around every bend and bodies rode home to wives and children, smashed and broken.

Far too often broken limbs, loosed from their moorings by wind or falling trees dangled from above, killing any unwary worker who happened to be near——widow-makers they were called. One early lumberman, Haliver (Handskipe) Peterson, was working at camp 10 in northern Michigan, when a branch pivoted and fell from above, hitting him on the head and snuffing out his life.

Handskipe’s body rode home to his family on a tote wagon, frozen and lifeless.

Logs that were decked into great mountains of lumber sometimes shifted and came crashing down onto anyone who happened to be nearby. Dick Kallyshaw met his maker when he drove a loading team onto a crosshaul. A mountain of logs had been skidded to the railroad and decked. Then when Dick guided his team onto the cross-haul (a passageway that had been cut into the forest at right angles to the track) and backed his horses into place, he reached for the toggle chain, a log broke from the deck and rolled onto him, crushing his life away.

Dick’s body went home in a box.

Probably the accident most remembered in the area was preserved in a photograph and placed in the company store. Twenty-two cars had been hauled onto a side track at the top of a 2 mile grade. The brakeman failed to apply brakes on all cars before coupling them to the engine. The cars rolled back down the hill, rumbling out of control for about a mile. Then they jumped the track, settling in a pile of rubble that loomed some 20 feet in the air.

Yet with all this death and destruction, life went on.

Yet when you consider the length of time on this job, the toll in lives was small for this hazardous occupation. Mostly the work went well and (Camp 10) was a happy camp. The work of logging continued; logs were cut, hauled, skidded and loaded.
And rugged men paid the price for difficult times.

These are true stories from the lives of early lumber men that were excerpted from Pioneer Potpourri by Rosalind Batterbee Bundy Westcott.
You may purchase Pioneer Potpourri at http://www.dawncreations.net


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It was about 1920 and my grandpa had gone to the camps during winter to supplement the family income. Most of the big timber had been taken, so the lumber companies had begun to harvest the more difficult areas, when they found a beautiful stand of hardwood on what is now called Death Hill in the Jordan Valley. The land was so steep as to seem impossible, but the East Jordan Lumber Company was determined to give it a try, so a machine was installed at the top of the hill to lower the logs by cable. When the logs reached the bottom of the hill they were hauled by horses to the decking yards.

It was still early morning when Old Meanie and Brownie were bought into position with their first load of the day. Old Meanie was still smarting from the “tuning up” he had received a little earlier, and he was dancing and throwing his head around. The driver was so busy holding him, while trying to keep Brownie from getting nervous that the sleigh passed over the hookup before the operator could fasten the cable. The load shot down the hill at breakneck speed.

Though the horses tried valiantly to hold steady and the driver sawed desperately on the lines, the 45 degree grade and the two 8 foot bunks, loaded as high as possible with those immense logs, made it a hopeless thing.

Finally when the load was about half way down, the driver recognized the uselessness of the situation and made a great leap, leaving the load and the horses to their fate.

Frozen in their tracks the men watched as the load ran up on the horses, leaping from hump to hollow like some living thing. The horses, running and screaming in fear, were unable to loose themselves from the monster which leaped after them. It was like a nightmare that would never end.

But the end came all too soon, as the monstrosity reached the bottom of the hill and the horses could not make the turn. They leaped into the air and landed in a tangle of brush, logs, sleigh and horses.

The men stood silent——in shock. The only conscious thought was a hopeless wish to see Brownie emerge unhurt.

Several minutes passed before there was any movement. Then something stirred and the veteran, Old Meanie, rose from the tangle. The men looked in vain for some sign of life from the heap that had been Brownie.

Slowly, Old Meanie rose to his feet. He stood momentarily with his head hanging as though he too mourned. Then he shook himself free of his harness and took off on a trot to the barn.

The incident was over, and another load must now pull into position for the double hook. The driver was safe and even though one horse was lost, Old Meanie would take many more loads down the hill.

The work would go on.

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Now There was a Blogger

     Everyone is blogging these days and now I’m doing it too. I’m kind of excited about the whole thing because it’s in my blood, I guess. My Aunt Rosie was a blogger way back in the 1950’s; only then they called it newspaper columnist. Much of my inspiration to write my novel, Footprints Under the Pines, comes from her columns. Let me give you a taste of life in lumberjack country as she saw it in her childhood.

She writes: Here are some of the things I see and hear [in memory]: A clear morning and from miles away the sound of a camp horn or triangle calling the men to breakfast, the distant sound of chopping and a clear call of tim-berrr, section after section of cut-over woodlands and everyone’s cattle running loose in them——where many times I looked for hours before locating our own.

I remember those same stump pastures during mushroom season.

And then wherever the loggers had gone there always seemed to be a few high limbless trees left behind which we called stubs. And nearly always after a thunderstorm we could see one or more of those old stubs blazing away into the night, until finally they had all burned or rotted away.

Did you ever wade barefoot for miles through several inches of ashes, where a forest fire had raged through the country and see nothing green in all the way?

One of the clearest things I can hear when I wake in the middle of the night is a train whistle——and the fact that the train and track have been gone for many years doesn’t seem to make much difference.


Aunt Rosie is gone now, but her influence lives on. Through her lessons in life this freelancer has written a book, inviting the world to visit a very real and rugged part of our history. Take a run over to dawncreations.net and see my book, Footprints Under the Pines, as well as a compilation of Aunt Rosie’s columns, entitled Pioneer Potpourri.

Come see me at http://www.dawncreations.net



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